Farewell to Smiling Fish Cafe

December 9, 2012 by Susan Benton

Today is my sweet Caroline’s birthday who attends college in Tuscaloosa. In honor of her special day, I met her grandparents at one of her favorite restaurants (and mine), Smiling Fish Cafe at Gulf Place. 

I chose to dine on what I think is one of the restaurants best dishes, Crawfish Etouffee (offered each Friday and Saturday), as did my Mother, but my Dad chose the Seafood Platter. I also ordered the Calamari Salad, Gumbo, and Fried Oyster appetizer for us to share, knowing full well I’d be sending my parents home with a to-go box.

Dad “AKA” Poppy with the Seafood Platter  

My favorite Crawfish Etouffee  

Crispy Calamari Salad  

“The best Fried Oysters I’ve ever eaten!”, both of my parents exclaimed.  

Caroline’s favorite menu items have always been the wraps and Fish Taco’s, but sadly by the time she arrives home next week for Christmas break, Smiling Fish Cafe at Gulf Place will be closed permanently. After 13 years of dedicated service to the community of South Walton, Chef and owner George Barnes will be plating his last New Orleans-Gulf Coast inspired dishes tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, 2012, from 11 am to 3 pm.

Growing Up with Smiling Fish  

Chicken Caesar Wrap  

I have fond memories of afternoons and evenings spent at Smiling Fish Cafe with family and friends over the years. One I recall is dining with other parents during our first Seaside Neighborhood School dance; we counted down the minutes as our 6th grade daughters slow-danced for the first time. My son Reed, a gumbo aficionado, gave his seal of approval on numerous occasions, as that was his favorite dish to order after important school events.

Daily Special’s Chalkboard  

New Orleans Seafood Gumbo  

Emeril Lagasse, also a fan of Smiling Fish Cafe, wanted George Barnes to be part of Emeril’s Florida which will air in January on The Cooking Channel, but George declined. Knowing his doors would be closed by the air date, he did not want to take the space of another business that might profit from being on the show. George Barnes motto at Smiling fish has always been, “Be nice or Leave!”, and he lives by those words.

Crispy Shrimp Caesar, another popular menu item.  

Soft-Shell Crab Po-Boy, A favorite when in season!  

Smiling Fish Cafe is closing due to lease issues, but the hope is that Chef Barnes will transform his concept and move to a new local location, pending of course the answering of a few prayers and, as George says, “some time off needed for travel.”  So, “Cheers!” to Chef Barnes and to his always smiling and professional staff, may this not be goodbye for long.

Always keep the pan simmering George!  


Chef and Owner George Barnes of Smiling Fish Cafe


Susan Benton's picture

A Gulf Coast native who now calls SoWal home, Susan spent much of her childhood traveling the world as the daughter of a Naval officer. Susan is known for her connection to area chefs, and her passion for promoting local farmers, businesses and artisans.

Add comment